Overview

Alternative Investment Management of Social Transformation Enabling Projects (AIM STEPs)

AIM STEPS is an alternative investment management company positioned around social and environmental mandates that take a consortium approach to impact investing. We manage institutional investor portfolios using innovative structures and synthetic solutions (including private equity and quasi-equity instruments) to enable access to unique investment opportunities, and derive the best value for all stakeholders.

  

In solving the world’s most complex problems, a multidisciplinary approach is often needed. The same holds true, in our opinion, for addressing the challenges faced by impact investors in emerging economies, especially in the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (“MSME”) sector. Recognizing this early, we have taken a consortium approach by including experts with a proven track record. Our partners from theSTEPs.org are market leaders and domain experts in their fields, each with a unique set of skills, requisite regulatory licenses, and years of experience.

  

1,000+ Investable MSMEs in our Network

  • Our Consortium partners have been active in the MSME space in various capacities.

  • We currently have access to a 10,000+ rich dataset of MSMEs.

  • A subset of this group is already under the i-SME Platform and thus we will have detailed quarterly financial data updates of these MSMEs.

Large Nationwide Footprint

  • 25 Districts

  • 41 Points-of-presence

  • ~100 Field Agents / Marketing Officers with average of 10+ years of experience

  • 4 Regional Coordinators

  • Database of 6,700+ customers

  • BDT 130+ crores (USD 18 million) of financing deployed to 3,000+ MSMEs

High level of Automation

  • i-SME platform

  

The evolution of AIM STEPS was necessitated to create scale for the vast scope of social business opportunities undertaken via theSTEPs.org, an association comprised of prominent member companies that have expertise and track record in sustainable development projects. As its name suggests, theSTEPs.org is an umbrella organization that brings together various private and public sector entrepreneurs and organizations with the common goal of achieving positive social impact. We have already deployed $18 million of financing for over 3,000+ enterprises, and now looking to expand and scale up by launching the STEPs MSME Impact Fund to allow participation in the investment opportunity by institutional investors and development agencies. The MSME sector in Bangladesh has been largely untouched by global impact investors - there is a significant opportunity for alternative lending to this sector by using financial innovation, industry experience and local know-how.

  

Leveraging the depth of our collective experience and capabilities, AIM STEPS is taking transformative ideas and accelerating their implementation by utilizing technology and financial innovation. The impact of each initiative on the ground is evaluated such that we can iteratively improve our efforts to achieve social welfare on a larger scale.

Vision | Mission | Values

Vision

To be the best in class impact investment manager by revolutionizing the way financial inclusion of the under-served MSMEs helps to create an attractive investment opportunity for global investors whilst promoting sustainable growth for developing nations.

Mission

  • To deliver market-competitive returns for our valued investors by incorporating innovative technology-enabled processes and data-driven analytics to screen, evaluate and monitor investments in sustainable social businesses in emerging economies.

  • To provide scale and intelligence to ecosystems of vibrant social businesses that allow participation by investors interested in pro-actively doing social good to create a sustainable future for our planet.

  • To bring Bangladesh to the forefront of the global institutional investment community and demonstrate a new paradigm in thought leadership for investment philosophies.

Values

To stay true to the cause with integrity and humility, and being adaptable to changing conditions to deliver the best possible outcome for all stakeholders.

Management & Advisory Board

The management of AIM STEPs is a team of experienced investment and financial services professionals guided by an Investment Committee. The overarching agenda driven by these veterans is to create a sustainable ecosystem for the MSME sector and to enable our valued investors to participate in the unique opportunities presented by the underlying social businesses. Together they have over 50 years of experience in socially responsible investing, SME financing, international fund mobilization, platform building, digital disruption and information technology. Dedicated to the sustainable development of the Bangladesh impact investment sector, the team strives to offer investors the potential for market-competitive financial returns alongside positive, measurable impact on some of the world’s most intractable socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

The Advisory Board of AIM STEPs consists of members from theSTEPs.org association. It enables us to leverage relevant experiences from a pool of highly credible entrepreneurs to guide us in our due diligence and investment process.

  
  
Member Bio image

Meet Azad Chowdhury

Mr. Chowdhury oversees all aspects of company management including investor outreach and regulatory affairs. He is a seasoned financial services professional with broad international experience gained across the United States, Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore spanning 20 years in the investment banking industry.

Professionally he has held multiple global / regional roles at top tier investment banks in the areas of equities and structured derivatives (e.g. Salomon Smith Barney, Deutsche Bank, Toronto Dominion Bank, ABN AMRO Bank etc.) focusing on business management, development & strategy, institutional client relationship management, and corporate access origination working with publicly listed companies across Asia Pacific. Originally from Bangladesh, Mr. Chowdhury has lived across Asia, the Middle East and North America over the last 25+ years; he has a global network of investment professionals and is also intimately familiar with the opportunities within the socioeconomic challenges facing Bangladesh.

Mr. Chowdhury has academic credentials from the United States having completed his secondary, undergraduate and graduate studies there. He holds a BBA degree in Finance & Investments from Baruch College, City University of New York and has completed Masters level executive education at Harvard Business School, Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. He is an Alumnus of both City University of New York and Harvard University.

Member Bio image

Meet Hasan Imam, PhD

Hasan Imam, PhD is the Founder of the theSTEPs.org and the Chairman of BSCL. He holds an MBA from Yale University, a Doctorate in Physics, and dual Bachelor degrees in Physics and Financial Economics.

Dr. Imam is the Chairman of BSCL, an alternative finance company bringing innovative financing and technology solutions to promote the socio-economic development of Bangladesh. In addition to BSCL, Dr. Imam is also the founder and CEO of RACE Financial Group, one of Bangladesh’s largest private investment management companies. Dr. Imam spent over a decade in Wall Street as Vice President and Managing Director at some of the world’s leading investment banks, including Credit Suisse and Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette. He was a Partner at Thomas Weisel Partners, a firm specializing in financing growth companies in the technology and bio-medical sectors in the USA.

He has won a number of national and international awards, including the National Presidential Merit Award, the International Wien Scholarship, the Physics Faculty Prize in Nano structures, and the prestigious John Olin Fellowship from Yale University. With theSTEPs.org, Dr. Imam has created a platform generating socially transformative ideas, accelerating their implementation using technology and innovative financing and measuring their impact to iteratively improve social solutions.

Member Bio image

Meet Mahboob Zaman

Mr. Mahboob Zaman is the Managing Director of DataSoft, a Top-3 software and technology firm in Bangladesh. With global alliances and partnerships, Mahboob Zaman has used DataSoft as a platform to execute some of the landmark ICT projects in Bangladesh such as the automation of the Chittagong Customs House, Dhaka Customs House & Chittagong Port.

During his tenure as President of the Bangladesh Association of Software & Information Services (BASIS), the apex body of software/ITES industries in Bangladesh made key strides in capacity building and market expansion. Mr. Zaman has contributed to increasing Bangladesh’s visibility as an upcoming nation in the field of Information Technology. Mr. Zaman has played a key role in securing foreign alliances and exploring export markets for DataSoft, which has engaged in various initiatives with several global giants such as Temenos (Switzer- land), eVastra Corporation (USA), CSB GmbH of Germany, TUV (Germany), NEO Global Business Solutions (UK) and the Primrose Group of Companies (USA).

Under Mahboob Zaman’s leadership, DataSoft has combined technology and commerce to accelerate social good. This social dimension has underpinned its core activities, particularly in the expansion of financial inclusion and improvements in public sector governance.

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Meet Silmat Chisti

Ms. Silmat Chisti is the founder and Managing Director of BSCL, a company providing innovative financing and structuring solutions to both public and private sector clients. Ms. Chisti has an MBA from Yale University in Finance and a Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College in Economics and Mathematics, both in the USA.

Under her leadership, BSCL has partnered with several financial organizations for the i-SME platform to provide agent banking solutions to increase their outreach in non-urban areas. Prior to BSCL, Ms. Chisti was the Head of the Citigroup (North America) Global Markets Bangladesh Private Limited, where she worked on several landmark transactions, including the largest Merger & Acquisition for the sale of Aktel stake to NTT DoComo, the largest IPO for Grameenphone, and the first Tier 2 bond under BASEL II for Prime Bank.

Ms. Chisti’s career in finance spans over a decade at some of Wall Street’s top investment banks, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse First Boston. Her tenure as a global investment banker spans North American and Asia-Pacific markets, in a variety of fields including corporate investment banking, asset backed securities and principal investing.

Member Bio image

Meet Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak

Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak is a Professor of Economics at Yale University. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT, as co-chair of its Urban Services Initiative and of its Environment & Energy Sector work. He leads the Bangladesh Research Program for the International Growth Centre (IGC) at LSE. He has previously worked at the World Bank, and at the International Monetary Fund.

Mobarak is a development economist with interests in environmental issues and has several ongoing research projects in Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi. He conducts field experiments exploring ways to induce people in developing countries to adopt technologies or behaviors that are likely to be welfare improving. His research has been published in journals across disciplines, including Econometrica, Science, The Review of Economic Studies, the American Political Science Review, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Demography, and covered by the New York Times, The Economist, Science, NPR, Wired.com, the Times of London, and other media outlets around the world.

Mobarak is currently collaborating with Evidence Action on a multi-country scale-up and replication of his research program that encourages rural to urban seasonal migration in the developing world to counter seasonal poverty.

Close

theSTEPs.org Ecosystem

(Social Transformation Enabling Projects & Organizations)

…is an Association of highly motivated entrepreneurs and organizations (for profit, not-for-profit, public, private) working collectively to bring about positive social change.

…takes “big” socially transformative ideas and accelerates their realization by harnessing the power of technology, finance and collective experience.

…nurtures projects locally but adapts the knowledge gained and platforms built to engineer social impact globally.

…is a knowledge focused organization, looking to take field projects data and engage with academics and researchers to conduct analysis – the results are then used to refine the field approach.
  

As an alternative investment fund manager, we bring our core competencies in structuring financial instruments; portfolio selection; and generating investment alpha, and through theSTEPs.org consortium of domain experts, we are uniquely positioned to work with our partners to build digital automation platforms and frame academically rigorous impact measurement methodologies among others.

  

STEP 1: Idea Generation

Select transformative ideas to solve pressing problems in eduction, health, environment, financial access


STEP 2: Activate the Collective

Identify a group of social entrepreneurs and their organizations who have the requisite skill sets, domain expertise, and infrastructure to execute


STEP 3: Build Enabling Platforms

Use the collective strength in analysis, technology and finance to create platforms that enable realization of the idea


STEP 4: Implementation

Harness outreach and field presence capacity to implement the platform on the ground


STEP 5: Impact Measurement

Measure impact to tune approach, solution or service delivery mechanism


STEP 6: Dissemination

Disseminate solution across sectors and geographies


  

IMPACT by the numbers

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Rural entrepreneurs promoted through USD 7 million in SME financing

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Bio-gas projects implemented nationwide with USD 9 million disbursed

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Homes receiving solar power nationwide

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Rural women trained in handicrafts production

  
  
  
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Metric tons of waste recycled saving green- house emission by 46,000 CO2 equivalent

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Targeted number of unbanked micro and small enterprises to be brought under formal finance

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Farmers & their family members to be made self-sufficient through green financing by 2025

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Rural members brought under the financial net through MicroFin360

  

theSTEPs.org – Consortium Partners

Bangladesh SME Corporation Limited (“BSCL”) established in 2013, is an alternative SME finance and data analytics consultancy firm. It acts as a specialized intermediary providing flexible schemes of funding for entrepreneurs, start-ups and also for established SMEs operating in several economic sectors. The company has the unique capability of adapting to the client’s needs and structure funding and investment instruments accordingly in order to allow its clients to reach their desired objectives. read more


Key attribute: (i) i-SME platform enables robust data collection and analytics on the investee universe collected by Field Agents (ii) growing network of SME Centers nationwide.


Track Record

The company has facilitated growth in the printing industry by providing a combination of equity and debt financing to 2 local printing giants. The financing scheme involved a combination of work order financing, bridge capital financing, term loan for investment in capital equipment and equity participation to a certain degree. This has enabled the entrepreneurs to focus on improving sales and accelerate business growth with the guidance of BSCL’s management, consultancy, and accounting services. The pilot project has been immensely successful and now being emulated in multiple other projects.

DataSoft (DSFT) is a Top-3 software company in Bangladesh. With 17-years of operational track record, the company has 300 IT professionals and boasts management with deep domain expertise. Established in 1999, it is a CMMI Level 5 certified (joining an elite group of just 400 leading companies worldwide) and an award winning software & digital automation platform builder in Bangladesh. read more


In addition, DSFT has received numerous global recognition awards, including the Century International Quality ERA Award in the Gold category in Geneva. It is an ISO 9001:2000 certified company and the first IT company in Bangladesh to become a “Super Brand”.


Track Record

Under the MSME sector, DSFT’s Microfin360 software is rapidly gaining market share in the microfinance institution (MFI) market. The Microfin360 platform is essentially MFI in a Box combining a management information system, accounting information system and a compliance solution. DSFT is currently implementing Microfin360 across more than 3,000 branches across the nation and this number is expected to grow at a rapid clip over the coming years.

Enterprise Development Co. Limited (“EDCL”) established in 2005, is an alternative finance facilitation company with rural coverage & field agents.


Key attribute: Financing arranger and implementer of Zero Waste Model, an award winning program. read more


The ZWM addresses a variety of impact criteria, and can be useful across many South Asian and African countries. The mini-dairies cum bio digesters address problems such as malnutrition, unemployment, and lack of access to electricity as well as the environmental degradation caused by Bangladesh’s rapid industrialization. The core vision of EDCL is providing access to finance to family units in the fields of renewable energy, food security and provide sustainability training.


Track Record

The Company has arranged financing for 3,000+ enterprises nationwide with a 97% recovery rate. The company has also implemented 2,000+ ZWM projects nationwide, increasing sustainable energy generation and reducing household smoke which is responsible for 10% of global death (WHO).

  
  

SUPPORT For Rural Advancement is an NGO set up in 1994 with the aim of understanding the socio-economic needs of rural women and addressing them by providing microcredit, agricultural extension services and health care facilities. By making these services available to women, SUPPORT is providing them with various opportunities to be economically viable and self-reliant. read more


Key attribute: A licensed Microfinance Institution with automated micro-lending processes and a nationwide footprint and field agents.


In addition, they have also started raising awareness about environmental sustainability and the causes of soil degradation, as a large percentage of the rural population is professionally dependent on the agricultural sector. Free of cost healthcare services and education facilities are also provided to the members and their families, which allow them to develop basic skills and be more employable across different sectors.

Established in 2013, ACACIA Socially Responsible Investment Management Ltd. is a licensed asset management company and specialized financial services company focused in channeling socially responsible investments into the MSME sector of Bangladesh. read more


Key attribute: A licensed mutual fund manager, regulated by the Bangladesh Securities & Exchange Commission. .


ACACIA provides research and analytics, indexing, impact investee sourcing, impact measurement & impact portfolio management services to asset managers, alternative lenders, think tanks and associations. In addition, ACACIA leverages its extensive networks in global financial hubs to market financial and social impact opportunities in Bangladesh to investors and channel impact investment to Bangladesh.

A top 3 credit rating agency that specializes in SME credit evaluation. ACRSL is partnered with DP Information Group (“DP”), the premier credit rating agency of Singapore for over 30 years. Having pioneered credit rating in Singapore, DP has played an influential role in the development of the credit rating sector in China, Indonesia, and Philippines. Further, DP’s parent company, the UK based Experian Group is one of the world’s top credit reference agencies.


MSME Impact Investment Platform

MSME Impact Investment Platform

A first in Bangladesh, our approach introduces Digital Disruption to Sustainable Development


Technological innovation is crucial to solving one of the most intractable problems of MSME impact investing: how to cost effectively source, select, monitor and generate analytics for a large universe of MSME investments.


At the heart of our proposal is the MSME Impact Investment Platform (“Impact MSME Platform”), an “intelligent” and scalable digital platform that can shift the paradigm in impact investing by addressing this problem.


Importantly, this platform infrastructure can be used in subsequent investment rounds to scale the Fund and market it to traditional returns-focused investors as well as to other impact investment managers, thereby helping to replicate our approach and strengthen the MSME impact investing eco-system in Bangladesh.

Dynamic Risk-Return-Impact Framework

Modern portfolio management framework approaches the investment construction and performance measurement from a two dimensional risk-return approach. On the other hand, traditional impact investing framework approaches performance by measuring post-facto a mix of qualitative and quantitative parameters.


We believe a new framework is needed that addresses the limitations of these approaches separately by combining

  • (i)a multi-dimensional portfolio pricing model that incorporates social impact variables along with financial risk-returns analysis,
  • (ii)a statistically rigorous impact measurement methodology which isolates the investment impact from confounding factors and
  • (iii)dynamic on-going impact evaluation that can capture supplementary impact variable related data.

STEPs MSME Impact Fund

Leveraging the intelligence from the Impact MSME Platform (the first of its kind globally) using the data-driven algorithms, AIM STEPs aims to bring to market the Socially Responsible MSME Impact Investment Fund (the “STEPs MSME Impact Fund” or the “Fund”).


The first of its kind in Bangladesh, the Fund will be an institutional-class impact fund focused on providing the under-served MSMEs of Bangladesh access to finance with the ultimate goal of promoting socially responsible business activities. In order to achieve this goal while generating a market-competitive return, we combine both a new way of doing things and creating new structures to solve the challenges of sustainability.


Our STEPs MSME Impact Fund offers investors the opportunity for social and environmental returns with risk-adjusted market, or above-market, returns. Due to no financial trade-off, we expect to see our mandate aligned with a large group of global, regional and local investors.

  
  

Market Positioning for the STEPs MSME Impact Fund

Investment Approach & Impact Evaluation

Investment Approach

A number of factors have converged to make possible a reusable platform for impact investing in the MSME sector.


Using this platform, our impact fund developed a replicable model for non-bank-intermediated formal financing of MSMEs.


  • A number of factors have converged to make possible a reusable platform for impact investing in the MSME sector. Using this platform, our impact fund developed a replicable model for non-bank-intermediated formal financing of MSMEs.

  • The Impact MSME Platform transitions pipeline development away from a network-driven effort to a data-driven, methodical approach. A wide net is cast across the country to source the most attractive MSME investees. This reduces the cost of deal sourcing relative to deal size, which will be a significant stride in the MSME sector.

  • A structured due diligence and investment monitoring process is in place. This is executed by former Grameen Bank alums with decades of experience in the sector and region. The Impact MSME Platform will enable investments to be monitored by a combination of accounting software implementation and cluster-based high-touch monitoring.

  • The platform isolates the impact of an investment from confounding factors. Impact variables are collected along with financial data on a quarterly basis by redeploying i-SME infrastructure. Thus the affordability problem of impact evaluation in the MSME space is addressed.

  • The STEPs MSME Impact Fund adopts an open-ended fund structure which leverages an array of self-liquidating equity instruments, improving exit rates. All returns will be structured as dividends to facilitate repatriation to investors.

Impact Evaluation

Developing a scalable and objective impact measurement system has been one of our key pillars.


Due to the high cost of impact evaluations relative to the size of an MSME investment, impact evaluations on a per-enterprise basis has traditionally been difficult to execute. This has been a disincentive for impact investment in the MSME space since impact investors want to know the social and environmental impact of their dollars. To address this gap, we have taken steps to create a scalable means to quantify the impact of our investments.


  • Impact variables added to financial data-feed: The i-SME platform records financial, transactional and operational information every quarter.

  • Impact data compatible with global standards: Measurement will use GIIRS taxonomy. In addition to general/cross-sector impact data metrics, we use sector-specific impact metrics with our frame-working partners such as Yale SOM. Investors will be able to determine the success of their impact investments.

  • Ability to isolate impact of an investment: One of the most innovative and revolutionary characteristics of the MSME Impact Evaluation Module will be its ability to isolate the impact of the investment from other confounding variables.

  • Historical Relationship Quantification: Peer group and investee time-series data is available both before and after the investment. Operational, financial and other variables of the peer group benchmark will be regressed on investee’s metrics to determine the relationship of investee’s dependent variables on the benchmark’s independent variables.

Focus Sectors

  • STEPs has made steady progress by providing resources, guidance, and training to enable growth within the entrepreneurial sector of Bangladesh. These entrepreneurial initiatives have positively impacted many lives and is the first step towards improving the nation’s human development index.

										With the goal of increasing awareness and access to finance, our member organisations have to date reached 2.5 lacs entrepreneurs and enterprises across the nation, culminating in the National Entrepreneurs Summit 2013.

    Art & Culture

  • With the ultimate goal of economic emancipation for all, our member organisations are engaged in national skill development and capacity building. These efforts target not just the unskilled labor, but also the formally educated individuals who lack the requisite skills for employment.

    Education and Skills Development

  • We believe that increasing the entrepreneur and organisation’s access to environmentally friendly technology and the financing to help deploy them is an important catalyst for social transformation. Our member organisations have already financed over 3000 sustainable agro and energy projects in some of the most underdeveloped parts of the country.

    Green Financing

  • STEPs attempts to identify the entrepreneurial minds and innovative ideas across Bangladesh and to provide them with a platform to explore their dreams through the realization that strategic tools, financial assistance, training, management guidance, recognition, reward and global networking are what they require.

    Entrepreneur

  • Health and Nutrition

  • STEPs has made steady progress by providing resources, guidance, and training to enable growth within the entrepreneurial sector of Bangladesh. These entrepreneurial initiatives have positively impacted many lives and is the first step towards improving the nation’s human development index.

With the goal of increasing awareness and access to finance, our member organisations have to date reached 2.5 lacs entrepreneurs and enterprises across the nation, culminating in the National Entrepreneurs Summit 2013.

    SME & Acceleration

  • Technology is an enabler of social transformation; our member organisations have trained and provided employment for over 1000 IT professionals, and continue to bring important technological innovations to sectors like agriculture, financial inclusion and environmental preservation.

    Technology

  • We mobilize resources to create gender equality in entrepreneurship.  For the overall development of society, we encourage women empowerment to improve the socioeconomic environment (especially in non-urban areas), so their participation in the business community creates a more financially inclusive ecosystem benefitting their independence, equal rights, skills enhancement and poverty alleviation.

    Women Empowerment

Research & Media

Industry News

The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), in partnership with Dalberg Global Development Advisors, published the full release of The Landscape for Impact Investing in South Asia, a “state of the market” analysis of the impact investing industry in the region. The most comprehensive study of impact investment activity in South Asia to date, the full report includes a chapter for each of the six countries studied—Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Read More..

AIM STEPs News

Industry Events

FAQs

To learn more about what your organization can do to be socially responsible whilst investing in alternative investment funds that invest in sustainable ecosystems, projects and companies, please contact us.

AIM STEPs Limited

Rupayan Shelford (14th floor),

23/6, Mirpur Road, Shyamoli

Dhaka-1207, Bangladesh.

+(88) 02-5100 0203

info@invest-steps.com

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